The Opposition

General Wojciech Jaruzelski
General Wojciech Jaruzelski; drawing by David Levine

A comprehensive map of the opposition in East Central Europe today would resemble nothing so much as one of those kaleidoscopic multicolored maps of ethnic groups in this region before the war. In both Poland and Hungary, groups or grouplets whose identities or programs arise from specific postwar realities overlap or combine with groups raising almost every flag, slogan, aspiration, or prejudice of the prewar political spectrum (except communism): populists, reform economists, radical sociologists, Smallholders, Lutherans, Catholic “base groups,” evangelical sects, democratic opposition, democratic youth, democratic academics, Solidarity, Fighting Solidarity, national democrats, liberal democrats, Christian democrats, social democrats, liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics, Christian socialists, Jews, anti-Semites, advocates of workers’ self-government, apostles of free enterprise, syndicalists and monetarists, self-styled “crazy liberals,” “neorealists,” “neopositivists”: you name it, we have it. And this is merely the surface of explicit opposition. One could produce another rich catalog of official or semiofficial projects for “reform.” Hungarian political scientists have coined the delightful term “paradigm ecstasy.”1

Here I shall merely indicate four dimensions that every cartographer of emancipation must bear in mind.2 The first might be called a popular rediscovery of the national past: a widespread and passionate interest in history,3 pre-war national traditions, forgotten authors, ethnic minorities past and present (Jews, Germans, Ukrainians, Hungarians in Transylvania and Slovakia), and regional ties (“Central Europe,” Germany, Lithuania, and the Ukraine). To subsume all this under the label “nationalism” would be crass oversimplification. Much of it is simply the quest for what is regarded in the West as a “normal” cultural continuity: an identification with national symbols, traditions, and even myths, as benign in moderation as it is dangerous in excess. The lack of “normal” access to the national past was a form of deprivation; the recovery of it is a form of emancipation. Tradition, said G.K. Chesterton, is the democracy of the dead. But does the recultivation of tradition necessarily conduce to the democracy of the living? What about the authentic, national un- or antidemocratic traditions? And cannot nationalism act—or be used—as a substitute for democracy?

This fear is particularly acute among the “democratic opposition” in Hungary. Why, they ask, did the new Party leadership, as one of its first acts, permit an independent mass demonstration against the Ceausescu regime’s persecution of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania? Partly, of course, to give vent to a burning popular concern, and gain social credit for so doing. But also, perhaps, because if you let people shout about national rights in Transylvania they may be less inclined to think about civil rights in Hungary. Certainly it was a strange affair, this torchlit demonstration on Heroes’ Square in Budapest. The speeches were an uneasy mixture of somewhat stilted liberal sentiments (universal rights, the poor Romanians suffer too) and purple patriotic rhetoric.4 My overwhelming impression was of a lonely crowd: men and women with slightly bewildered…

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